The Religion of Feelgoodism

by Tim Haile

August 01, 2001

     The emotionalism of the Charismatic movement has existed for some time, but because of the movement's bond with various false doctrines, the majority of emotionalists among churches of Christ have kept their distance from them. They are intrigued by the movement's guilt-free and doctrine-free mentality, but until recently they have publicly avoided adopting this philosophy themselves. This reluctance has led to the formation of a new religious movement among churches of Christ, including some non-institutional churches. Many churches of Christ are witnessing the rise of Feelgoodism (pronounced - feel-good-iz-em) as a new religious philosophy. In this article we shall consider some of its more popular tenets.

     New religious movements are a dime a dozen. And there appears to be a never-ending supply of religious change agents who are ready and willing to lead the search for new and better ways to "be religious." Sadly, these changers aren't looking for the right kind of change. They aren't looking for better ways to practice the "pure religion" revealed in the "perfect law of liberty" (Jas. 1:27, 25). They aren't "searching the scriptures" for information about how they may better serve God (Jn. 5:39; Acts 17:11). They trust in themselves, and "lean" to their own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6). They look for ways that seem good to themselves, not for ways that are approved by God and revealed in scripture (Prov. 14:12). Some of these change agents want change merely for the sake of change. Others want change for the purpose of exciting the senses. They are like Herod and the Jews who wanted to see one of Jesus' miracles; only because they desired to be amazed and titillated by it (Lk. 23:8; Matt. 16:1).

     Through the years, religious movements like Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Deism, Catholicism, Mormonism, Humanism, Atheism, and Denominationalism, (with all of its components), have accommodated those who reject either part, or all of God's way. Because these various "isms" are responsible for immense spiritual damage, claiming the souls of multiple millions, true soldiers of the cross work vigorously to oppose the errors espoused by these false religions (2 Cor. 10:3-5; 1 Tim. 1:3; Tit. 1:13). God's soldiers fight to utterly "demolish" every concept conceived by human imaginations and speculations (2 Cor. 10:5). Though they have compassion on the sinner himself (Jud. 22-23), yet these servants of God show no mercy on the error that deceives the sinners. This militancy is quite justified, for error certainly shows no mercy towards its victims. False religion is like a predator that captures its prey, then drags its carcass to a place where it may comfortably feast upon it. Once deceived and caught, most people have great difficulty seeing how to escape.

     Thus, God's soldiers have a dual objective. They wish to deliver a fatal wound to error, and at the same time, direct people to Christ. When the sword of the spirit, ("which is the word of God" - Eph. 6:17), is properly handled and applied (2 Tim. 2:15), it distinguishes truth from error and right from wrong (1 Jn. 4:6). Good soldiers will use this divinely given tool to divert people's attention away from human opinions and philosophies and direct it towards the truth of God's word. They encourage people to abandon human traditions and creeds (Matt. 15:7-9; Col. 2:20-22): To "abide in the doctrine of Christ" (2 John 9). To "speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet. 4:11): To speak and act according to the authority of Jesus Christ (Col. 3:17): To "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7).

A New "Ism"

     It is sad, that in spite of the valiant efforts of many to oppose these changes to the "one faith" (Eph. 4:5; Jud. 3), there are those, even among non-institutional churches, who are turning to the religion of Feelgoodism. They are building away from the tried foundation (1 Cor. 3:11). They are wandering from the old paths (Jer. 6:16). Perhaps they reason that the "old paths" are just too old for them. They are tired of all of the emphasis on "the need for Bible authority" and a "thus saith the Lord." To these people, the law of Christ is tedious. Orderly worship is uninteresting and tiresome. They are no longer excited by truth, so they seek their excitement elsewhere. And that "elsewhere" is denominationalism! Just as Israel of old "doted on its Assyrian lovers" (Ezek. 23:5), even so, these church members commit spiritual adultery with their denominational idols. They become spiritual drug addicts, always looking for another fix. Of course, their thrill is not produced by a chemical stimulant; it is produced by a feeling.

     Under this spell, a person confuses spirituality with a good feeling. As long as he feels good, he feels "spiritual." When he feels bad, he ceases to feel spiritual. Since his emotion is based upon feelings, rather than faith, he is no longer edified by God's word (Acts 20:32). He must rely upon various forms of external stimuli to produce and maintain his spiritual high. For him to feel good about his own spirituality, he needs his worship services to be sensationalized. Like that of the denominationalist, his religion is a feel good religion. His worship experience is "better felt than told."

Major Tenets of Feelgoodism

1. Feelgoodism despises all forms of religious criticism. God tells us to "destroy" all arguments that discourage obedience to the truth (2 Cor. 10:5-6), and to "be set for the defense of the gospel" (Phil. 1:17). However, feelgooders cringe when error is vehemently attacked and truth is strongly defended. Such actions make them feel bad, so they oppose it. (I wonder if they ever "feel bad" about having to oppose the opposers; to criticize the critics?) God tells us to "mark and avoid" those who teach false doctrine (Rom. 16:17), yet the feel-good mentality winces with pain when errorists are publicly marked and others are encouraged to avoid them. God tells us not to assist or encourage a person who refuses to bring the doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9-11). The feel-good mentality recoils at the very thought of us taking error that seriously! They consider this kind of reaction to error as "extreme" and "radical." They view it as "harsh" and "inconsiderate." It makes them very uncomfortable, and they don't like feeling that way.

2. Feelgoodism rejects the concept of religious militancy. I would think that those who practice the religion of Feelgoodism would shrink back from the old song admonishing "soldiers of Christ" to "arise." Of course, the New Testament is filled with fighting language. Timothy was to "fight the good fight of faith" just as Paul had "fought a good fight" (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7). He was to "endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ," and not "involve himself with the affairs of this life," realizing that his duty is to please the one who "enlisted him" (2 Tim. 2:3-4). Ephesians 6:10-17 and 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 also use military language to describe the Christian's duty. Jesus told apostates that He would "fight against them" with the sword of His mouth (Rev. 2:16). Will some charge Christ with not being very "Christlike?"

3. Feelgoodism walks by sight, not by faith. Yes, this is the exact opposite of 2 Corinthians 5:7. Rather than "searching the scriptures" for the right way, emotionalists search their feelings for approval or disapproval. Physical sensations replace faith. For now, (at least with many) the sensationalism will be combined, in some acceptable way, with some accepted scriptural practice. They will take the Lord's supper and sing spiritual songs, but like the romantic couple, they will touch hands, dim the lights and gaze deeply into each other's eyes while doing so. They may sing without mechanical instruments of music, but their songleader will more resemble a country music star than a song leader. He wears the wireless headgear. He runs up and down the isle. He limits the singing to the very up-tempo songs that he may easily use to emotionally excite the audience. Meanwhile, the audience either holds hands or puts their arms around each other for the added touch sensation. These things may seem harmless on the surface. But if they are done for the sensation that is produced, in order to elicit an emotional response, then it becomes a substitution for scriptural worship which has God, not man, as its primary object. Rather than carrying out God's "good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13), the emotionalist pleases himself. Paul said one cannot do this and please God at the same time (Gal. 1:10).

     Another problem with the religious feel-good movement is the tendancy for its worship services to degenerate into an irreverant party-like atmosphere. I am hearing eye witness reports from some who have attended some of these services, and they tell me that there is a lot of laughing and jesting that takes place. This reminds me of some of the Promise Keepers meetings where they had "laughing" services. In these services the people would laugh hysterically until they were rolling on the floor, completely out of control. When churches of Christ start down the emotionalism path, they start down a very slippery slope. As I said before, the emotionalist must constantly experiment with new and different practices in order to be satisfied. Once this mentality is accepted, one sensational practice leads to another, and another, until eventually, a Bible reading person would not be able to recognize their worship services. "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints" (Psa. 89:7), but I am afraid He isn't in worship assemblies where the primary objective is nothing more than to make me either laugh or cry!

     Don't get me wrong. Faith based emotion is essential to acceptable worship (Jn. 4:24), but emotion that is based upon feelings will lead people into apostasy. Let us remember that sin, itself, makes its appeal through various physical senses. The Bible speaks of "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life" (1 Jn. 2:15). If properly controlled, these senses may be used to do good and serve God.

     As for the scriptural practice, eventually, these people will realize that the scriptural practice can only be bent and twisted so much, and then it breaks. At this point it ceases to look and feel good, and the scriptural practice is dropped and replaced with something else that has a broader appeal. Let us remember that David and the people thought it felt good to bring the ark home on an ox cart. They were happy and excited. They were singing, dancing and rejoicing However, their feelings misled them, and a man lost his life because of unchecked emotionalism (1 Chron. 13:7-10). Apparently, excitedly stirred by the miracle of God's fire engulfing the sacrifice from the altar (Lev. 9), and acting impulsively, Nadab and Abihu felt good about offering what was described as "strange fire" before the Lord. They were also wrong, and were killed for their crime (Lev. 10:1-3).

by Tim Haile

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